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War, Pandemic, and Seattle Baseball in 1918: Part 2

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As the 1918 baseball season continues, the Giants and the minor leagues face the realities of the war economy, and the shipyards struggle to keep their league intact. Meanwhile, the major leagues wait for official rulings to learn whether they can finish the season or stage a World’s Series. And, always lurking behind the scenes, the deadly second wave of the 1918 influenza comes home.

Happy President
President Woodrow Wilson and Edith Wilson attend a baseball game in 1918.
Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Welcome to the second part in a three-part series examining the 1918 influenza pandemic and Seattle baseball. Read Part One here.

Two weeks after the 1918 influenza began spreading through the civilian population of Seattle in October, baseball fans were still holding out hope the Duthies and Pat-Macs would play the championship game.

The pandemic’s toll was rising. Schools closed. All public gatherings were banned. Each day began with the news that a neighbor, a friend, an acquaintance had died in the night. A serum developed by the health department offered hope that the terrifying disease could be brought under control.

People soon realized this influenza virus was not killing children or the elderly. It was attacking and violently killing healthy adults. Young men and women in their twenties and thirties, the population best built to fight off the flu, were dying unusually quick and wretched deaths.

The grippe gripped the city. The number of deaths climbed higher in bounds. The number of sickened grew. Fear accompanied every sneeze, every cough, every fleeting moment of faintness.

The summer’s spectacular baseball began to feel far away.

Baseball Trouble in Seattle

By the end of May, the Seattle Giants were indisputably the strongest team in the Pacific Coast International League (PCIL), commanding a six-game lead over the second place Tacoma Tigers. The Seattle team was succeeding on the field, but trouble was fermenting off the field and throughout the rest of the PCIL. At a May 26th meeting of PCIL magnates, Tacoma withdrew from the league. They blamed a general sense of fan apathy and poor street car service that made it difficult for fans to get to games.1 In order to have an even number of teams for scheduling purposes, the league also decided to drop the Spokane Indians. Spokane had been plagued with worse attendance than Tacoma, and being the team the furthest away from the rest of the league, it made sense to drop the Indians so the remaining teams could save on transportation costs.

The Aberdeen Black Cats, Vancouver Beavers, and Portland Buckaroos helped themselves to the freed Tacoma and Spokane players. The Giants, with their commanding lead, were deemed too strong to need any additional help. Despite the shuffling of schedules and shuttering of teams, the Seattle Daily Times reported, “the magnates believe that they can play the season through with a profit possibly and at least keep the local fans supplied for the season.”2 Yet less than a week later, in early June, a rumor in the Seattle papers divulged that the league was on the verge of shutting down.

Giants owner Daniel Dugdale was in favor of shuttering for the remainder of the war. He was invested in keeping his franchise and maintaining all of its territorial and player rights, so despite the money he was losing, he would not leave the league until it followed the proper procedures for closing down. Even though the minor leagues were facing the same roster drains as the major leagues—losing players to the draft and, increasingly, shipyard work—the other owners wanted to maintain optimism that the crowds would grow as the weather improved and they would make money.

It was a losing battle in the war economy, and minor leagues began closing on June 15th. Several remaining leagues, including the PCIL, rolled out a new feature to bring the fans out to the ballgame: twilight baseball. Rather than play at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, games would be played in the evening at 6:30 PM, allowing fans to attend when they were done working for the day. The Seattle Daily Times described the new game times as being “all the rage”3 and pointed out, “Evening is the only time enough men are idle to watch the games and the magnates are slowly awakening to that fact.”4 The new twilight baseball was made possible by the advent of Daylight Saving Time. The time switch was introduced in March 1918 with the intention of saving energy for the war effort. (It was almost universally reviled and was repealed after the war.)

Perhaps searching for a scapegoat, poor umpiring work was also blamed for poor attendance in the PCIL. It’s hard to say how much of the complaining was justified and how much of it was just a result of umpire complaints being embedded into the very nature of the game. Whatever the case, the frustrations with the arbiters behind the plate reached a rolling boil one afternoon for Bill Leard.

During the second inning of a game on June 15th, the Giants’ pugnacious player-manager got into a vicious argument with Umpire Colgate over a third strike call. Leard, filled with rage at the umpire, turned and left the game, essentially ejecting himself. That evening he told his team that he had quit as the Giants’ manager and second baseman. A couple days later, he set sail for California. He tried to leave baseball behind, but he would catch on with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. Although the papers blamed the umpiring on Leard’s departure, it seems more likely that the stress of being caught between an owner who didn’t want to continue the season, the uncertainty of war-time minor league baseball, and angry players, who were not receiving their full paychecks, combined to make a bad umpiring call untenable.

Newspapers did not busy themselves worrying about the mental state of baseball players. Rarely did players give quotes for news articles; official information ran through owners and managers. But hints of player dissatisfaction snuck onto the sports pages. For instance, after Leard quit a short item ran in the Seattle Daily Times that alluded to Dugdale’s penny-pinching, writing, “Bill will never forget the 10c he was docked for overeating on a $1.25-a-day expense account.”5 (Going $1.75 over a $21.92 limit in today’s money.6) A few scattered mentions of surprise over teams paying players their full salary suggest that a full paycheck was rare in 1918. This must have only increased the appeal of shipyard work and shipyard baseball.

Capital T That Rhymes with B That Stands for Baseball

The Seattle Shipbuilders’ Baseball League was facing problems of its own. Like the PCIL, the SSBL had embraced twilight baseball. The downside to twilight games was the setting of the sun, even if it did come an hour later than normal thanks to Daylight Saving. One evening, Ames Shipbuilding & Drydock Company took on Pacific Construction & Engineering Works in an exciting matchup. The two teams battled to a tie in the tenth inning and looked to continue their fight until a victor emerged. Unfortunately, the umpire—opening himself up to all sorts of cheeky jokes—called the game in the middle of the tenth inning with the score tied at two apiece on account of being unable to see in the darkness.

At a meeting the next day, it was decided that all games would be played in the daylight for the time being. Then, the Shipping Board decided that shipyard workers were needed to build ships a full six days a week and turned back the half-holiday on Saturdays. The final blow came when the Skinner & Eddy shipyard decided to cause more trouble for the league it had abandoned before the season started. Skinner & Eddy took over Seattle Construction & Dry Dock, and withdrew the Dry Dockers from the league.

The steel division found itself with only three teams and no way to stage doubleheaders on Saturday due to losing the half-holiday (the ballpark was occupied on Sundays by the wood division). The steel division folded with the J.F. Duthie shipyard in the lead and the Duthies were crowned the champions, the first championship to be awarded in the 1918 Seattle baseball season.

The steel yards didn’t stop playing baseball when their division folded. They played independent ball against military nines, other semi-pro company teams, and against their wood shipyard counterparts. The independence gave the Duthies their first look at the Patterson-MacDonald team. Patterson-MacDonald, affectionately dubbed the Pat-Macs, was leading the wood division and the matchup against the Duthies on June 8th was billed as a championship match of sorts.

The teams met on Saturday after their workdays. The Pat-Macs took the lead right away in the top of the first inning, scoring a leadoff walk on two singles. They nearly scored again in the third, but center fielder Kulman (no first name was given for him, and several other players) was thrown out trying to steal home. The Duthies answered in the fourth inning with an, incredibly rare for the time, three-run home run to straight away center field off the bat of third base man Frank Giugni. Another tally went to the Duthies when center fielder Bill Cunningham successfully stole home. The Duthies went on to win 6 to 1, and were anointed the champions of the Seattle shipyards. It was a short-lived crown; the shipyards weren’t finished organizing baseball leagues for the year.

The Duthies were also producing off of the baseball field. Statistics released in mid-June for the construction of steel ships showed the Pacific Division, which consisted of Washington and Oregon shipyards, was leading the country in tonnage erected. Skinner & Eddy was the top producing yard in the entire country with Seattle Construction & Dry Dock and Ames Shipbuilding also cracking the top ten. The little yard of J.F. Duthie & Co, which was considerably smaller than Skinner & Eddy, came in ranked #11 in the country.7 The small yard was making a name for itself building ships, and attracting ballplayers.

The PCIL Meets Its Demise

The Pacific Coast International League’s money and attendance troubles came to a head near the end of June. The Vancouver (BC) Beavers had been a bright spot in the league. Although they were in last place, the team was drawing extraordinarily well. Their owner, Robert Brown was aware of his position as the cash cow of the PCIL. Earlier in the season, a roadtrip to Portland was a financial disaster for him, so Brown suggested the Portland Buckaroos come north to Vancouver instead of playing another series in Portland.

Buckaroos owner Judge William Wallace McCredie considered the offer and requested $800 in guaranteed gate receipts before he’d agree to the change. Brown refused the request, and McCredie refused to go to Vancouver. Brown, likewise, refused to go to Portland, and each owner threatened the league that they would disband their team—and sink the league—if they other did not show up. The end of the PCIL was nigh.

The PCIL magnates met to discuss the situation and decided to take the Beavers, the team with the stellar attendance that financed much of the rest of the league, away from Brown and moved them from Vancouver BC to Vancouver, WA. On the surface, it was a puzzling move, but it was a move motivated by political considerations. The league needed to play half of a season with a pre-set end date in order to protect their territorial rights. A team withdrawing from the league would scuttle those plans. Another factor was Portland and Seattle were eager to join the Pacific Coast League and the PCL was eager to have them. Erstwhile Vancouver owner Brown would have demanded a huge amount of money to agree to letting the two big cities of the PCIL leave. Stripping him of his team solved both problems.

The end came for the PCIL on July 7th. Even before the end, owners began releasing players, keeping only enough to field a lineup. In one of the final games, Aberdeen player-manager Dick Egan let out his own Leard-like frustrations on an umpire. During an at-bat Egan, who had played nine seasons in the major leagues, argued a call at the plate by Umpire Johnson. Johnson ejected Egan and Egan dutifully trod back to the dugout. However, he refused to send in a substitute player for himself and the game could not continue. In response, the umpire began to call for the police to remove Egan from the premises. He also moved to declare the game an Aberdeen forfeit. A clamor arose from the small group of fans in attendance. They came to see a baseball game, and they wanted to see a baseball game. Umpire Johnson assessed the situation and decided his best course of action was to pull a Bill Leard himself, and so, the disgraced arbiter fled the ballpark.

The game proceeded with Egan back in at second base. Said the Seattle Daily Times of the incident:

In one of the first instances where a manager or ball player ever got the best of an umpire, Mr. Egan played the stellar role. Long live Richard Egan if he can get the better of the Johnson kind of umpires.8

The Seattle Giants, on the strength of star pitcher Cy Young (no, not that Cy Young), finished the season three games ahead of the Portland Buckaroos and were declared the champions of the PCIL. Seattle had a pennant-winning baseball team, but few fans had gone out to the ballgames to support them. Near the end of June, they were drawing fewer than 200 fans a game. The Seattle Star mused over the championship season, and the lack of fans in the stands, suggesting the team was just too good to attract fans:

With a good lead early in the season, and no competitor to cut it down, Seattle’s ball team was early taken for granted as a winner. The feeling that the team could win without them kept many fans who would otherwise have been on the bleachers in stuffy offices. Seattle is proud of its war-time ball team, tho it seldom took the trouble during the season to show it.9

When the last pitch was thrown in a July 7th doubleheader the season ended, and the players immediately began looking for new jobs, and new teams. Reflecting on the season of war-time baseball, Aberdeen manager Egan said, “If anybody ever tempts me into a baseball venture such as this has been I hope I am shut up with the rest of the lunatics.”10

By the end of July, of the ten minor leagues to begin the season, only one was still playing; the plucky International League would manage to finish the season.

The Ainsmith Decision

Meanwhile in the major leagues, nearly two months had passed since the initial Work or Fight order had been issued. The magnates, players, and fans alike were all apprehensively waiting to learn if the order—mandating that all draft-eligible men (nearly all men aged 21-30) either work in essential war industries or join the military to fight the war—applied to baseball. Finally, the case of Washington Senators catcher Eddie Ainsmith was appealed all the way up to the War Department and a ruling could be issued to settle the question.

On July 19th, Secretary Baker ruled that baseball was nonessential. Players needed to find work in essential war industries, or suit up to fight. Organized baseball was effectively over for the year. Except, a new question emerged. The original Work or Fight order went into effect on July 1st. In the Ainsmith ruling, Secretary Baker did not specify if the order was in effect immediately for baseball, or if the leagues had time to comply.

A group of magnates traveled to Washington D.C. a few days later to meet with General Enoch Crowder, the provost marshal general in charge of the draft, for clarification. Baseball was asking for the order to go into effect no sooner than October 15th. They wanted to play out their season and put on a World’s Series. The War Department decided not to shut down baseball right away, but wanted a shorter season. The magnates were given September 1st as the end date, which was effectively September 2nd due to the Labor Day holiday

Once again, the major leagues were unclear on the ruling. Did that mean the regular season had to end on September 1st, followed by the World’s Series? Did it mean the World’s Series had to be complete by then? The major leagues waited a month to learn if, and when, they could hold a World’s Series. In late August, as the end of the agreed-upon season was approaching, Secretary Baker gave baseball permission to stage their championship after the regular season ended on Labor Day. The World’s Series was quickly scheduled to begin on September 4th. The Work or Fight order would go into effect for the players on the World Series teams on September 15th.

Soldier Pitching Baseball, “That Arm, Your Country Needs it”, World War I Recruitment Poster, 1917
World War I Recruitment Poster, 1917
Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

By the time the Red Sox left for Chicago to play the Cubs in the 1918 World’s Series, the second wave of the influenza pandemic had taken hold at a Navy post in Boston. It had spread to the civilian population by the time they returned.

The Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League

The collapse of the minor leagues and the early end to the major league season flooded shipyards with professional players. Seattle area yards competed with each other over the local minor leaguers in a signing frenzy and nearly every team was significantly improved. The wood shipyard division of the Seattle Shipbuilders’ Baseball League was the only formal intercompany league in the area. Naturally, the sporting directors of the major yards began talking about forming a new league to show off the considerable influx of talent.

Initially the discussion was around six teams: The Duthies, the Pat-Macs, the Todd and Foundation shipyards in Tacoma, the Seattle North Pacific yard, and the old nemesis of the Seattle Shipbuilders’ League steel division, Skinner & Eddy. The yards debated and negotiated. Skinner & Eddy ultimately declined to join. After considering teams from Bremerton and a boilermakers union, the Sloan Shipyard in Olympia became the final member of the Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League.

Each team would have a roster limit of fifteen men and each player had to work full-time at the yard for which they played. Players needed six days of employment before they were eligible to appear in games. If a player left one shipyard for another, the manager of the first team had to give permission for that player to play for his new yard. The newspapers were assured that only the “best umpires possible will be secured.”11 A championship series was scheduled to take place between the Puget Sound league and the Columbia-Willamette Valley Shipyard League of Portland.

The Seattle Daily Times said of the nascent league:

Such a league, properly handled, could not fail, according to the many shipyard fans. The early season league failed largely through lack of proper handling, men who were willing enough but who knew little about the actual handling of a baseball league.12

The season for the new league was set to begin on July 28th and run until September 29th. The league would only play on Sundays, to accommodate work schedules. First, the shipyard teams would compete against each other for the official title of Seattle semi-pro baseball champion at The Seattle Girls’ Victory Carnival.

The Victory Carnival was the largest carnival in Seattle’s history. In late July, the sports calendar drew athletes for competitions in boxing, swimming, foot races, tug-of-war (50 teams participated!), whale boat races, water polo, and for children, throwing baseballs, sack races, and three-legged races. Baseball, of course, was the main attraction. The carnival donated its earnings to help families of sailors in the service and toward the construction of hospitals in the US to serve service members.

Five shipyards qualified teams to the championship tournament: Ames, J. F. Duthie, Seattle North Pacific, Skinner & Eddy, and Patterson-MacDonald. Joining the shipyards was the Hibernian fraternal organization and the University of Washington Naval Training Station. Skinner & Eddy, the Duthies, Seattle North Pacific, and the Naval Training Station advanced out of the first round. In the second round, the Naval Training Station pulled out a lucky win against former Seattle Giant Cy Young (again, not that one) pitching for Seattle North Pacific. The Duthie yard was only too happy to knock out their nemesis, Skinner & Eddy.

Facing the Duthies in the City Championship game, the lucky run by the Naval Training Station came to an end. They had one pitcher left, an unfortunate soul named Duniway, who walked eleven batters. Lyle Bigbee, a local baseball and football star, was on the mound for the Duthies and allowed just three hits. The Duthies scored six runs, and added the title of Seattle Semi-Pro Baseball Champions to their 1918 trophy case.

A short note, squeezed into the bottom of the sports section the day after the Duthie victory read, “Spanish Grip Kills 305 in Swiss Army”. The paragraph that followed notes that although a civilian death count was not made public, Swiss hospitals were overwhelmed and short of doctors and nurses.13 But Switzerland was a far-away country, and the Swiss army was on another continent so the news likely didn’t raise any alarms for baseball fans reading up on the big game.

Noting the success of the sporting events at the carnival, the Seattle Star posited that the carnival “demonstrated that sports are not dead for the period of the war. People want sports-but they want them on a clean-cut, wholesome basis.”14

Going Out to the Shipyard Ballgame

The Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League was only too happy to give people war-time sports. For fans in Seattle, the shipyard league made arrangements to help fans get out to Liberty Park at 14th Avenue and East Jefferson Street on Capitol Hill (either on, or right near, where the Seattle University Championship Field is now). Street cars ran throughout the city and the league arranged for the James and Madrona lines to run directly to the ballpark. Each of these lines connected with lines running to every neighborhood in the city. In 1918 there was no Googling of bus schedules, fighting traffic across the bridges, or desperately searching for parking. Some fans may have driven to the park, but the street cars seemed to be the primary means of arriving. (For a laugh, though, picture someone trying to parallel park a Model T in Capitol Hill.)

Games typically started at 2:30 PM. Fans and players alike were able to eat a midday meal before going out to the ballgame. These games did not offer concessions, so delicacies like hot dogs and ice cream in a mini-helmet were not part of the ballgame experience. Admission cost 50 cents, including the war tax (approximately $8.50 today). The games drew well and crowds in excess of 2,000 showed up to cheer on the shipbuilders. The fans were passionate rooters; newspapers often contain accounts of fan opinions on plays and calls.

If there was a scoreboard at Liberty Park it would have been simple and hand-operated. The newspapers sometimes speculated on the lineups for the games, but otherwise fans were reliant on the umpire to announce players and tell them who was playing. Most games only had one umpire, behind home plate. For important games occasionally a second umpire would be stationed in the infield to help with calls on the bases.

Once at the game, fans could expect to cheer on their team for anywhere between one and two hours. It was rare for a game to take longer than two hours to decide. Pitching was the dominant force and indeed pitchers had an advantage over batters. Balls were reused until they were lost, so the balls were dirty and scuffed, making them dance through the air and trick batsmen. The spitter was still legal and a common pitch. Home runs were rare and steals of home were expected. Player-managers were common as well. Jimmy Hamilton of the Patterson-MacDonald yard, Bill Speas of Foundation, and Earl Thompson with Sloan all played in the field as well as directed the team.

Baseball has always been a conversational sport. If the discussions in the stands were as colorful as the descriptions in the papers, there were lively conversations to be had. Fans were always hoping their local team was a “fast nine”. Because pitching dominated the game, the most important players were the “twirlers” on the mound. Sometimes the mound dwellers were called “hurlers”, particularly if they had a good “fast one” to throw past batters. Although double-digits strikeout totals were expected, twirling still needed help from the “gardeners” in the field to put the other team away. If the gardening was poor and the defense caught a case of “bootitis”, the team needed its batters to come through “in the pinches” and score some runs. Extra base hits were always appreciated, but a well struck “bingle” with a runner on base could score a run just as well. If a team was struggling, they were in need of “strengthening”. And what could boost a team’s morale like a star “portsider” on the mound?

The Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League also carried on the great tradition of fun baseball names. Among the stars in the 1918 boxscores:

  • Sharkey Willard, catcher for Seattle North Pacific
  • “Cy” Young, pitcher for Seattle North Pacific and Foundation
  • “Sad Slim” Smith, pitcher for Seattle North Pacific
  • “Big” Mountain, pitcher for Foundation
  • “Bugs” Shover, outfielder for Todd
  • Ike Wolfer, outfielder for Sloan
  • “Suds” Sutherland, pitcher for Sloan
  • Walter “Barker” Cadman, catcher for Todd
  • “Curly” Coen, infielder for Foundation
  • “Happy” Morse, infielder for Patterson-MacDonald
  • Ernest Schorr, pitcher for the Duthies who went by many nicknames including “Ocean”, “Hunky”, and simply, “Ernie.”

Also scattered through the lineups were Leftys and Reds. Two players changed their “Dutch” nickname to “Scotty” in 1918. Fun names aside, shipyard fans also got to see big names on the Liberty Park diamond, names that had appeared in major league lineups.

Around twenty-five players with major league experience played at Liberty Park the summer of 1918. Most of them had only played a season or two, and a few had only a handful of games experience, but few were good major leaguers. Even the umpiring side harbored major league talent. Harry Howell played in the major leagues from 1898 until 1910 and was worth 33.7 bWAR over the course of his career.

Even though the fans didn’t know it in 1918, several future major leaguers also graced the diamond at Liberty Park. The shipyards offered Seattlites the highest level of play they had seen up until that point. No wonder fans came to the park in higher numbers than they had for the Giants.

The Shipyard League Plays Ball

Baseball Magazine Cover With A Pitcher In Action
Baseball Magazine, May 1918.
Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The fans, shipyards, and players alike were eager to get the new league’s season underway. After just a few games, it was clear it was a three-way race for the best team in the league.

The Sloan Shipyard in Olympia jumped to an early and commanding lead. Earlier in the year, several of the Vancouver BC Beavers had left the team to join the Sloan yard. Outside of pitcher Harry Gardner, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sloan did not attract any major league talent. Given the importance of pitching, Gardner was all Sloan seemed to need to win games.

Gardner was clearly the best pitcher in the league the first month of the season. He was stingy in allowing base runners and runs to score, notching double-digit strikeout totals each time out. He didn’t run into any trouble until he faced Patterson-MacDonald in the fifth game of the season when one tough inning was enough to lose the game.

The Patterson-MacDonald Shipyard was also off to a great start. The victory against Sloan gave them an undefeated record in August and first place in the shipyard league standings. The wood shipbuilders on the Duwamish waterway were a favorite of the Seattle fans. They had been considerably strengthened, adding six players with major league experience. Their star signing was Paul Fittery. He had played two previous seasons in the major leagues. He spent the 1918 season with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League and was one of the best pitchers in the PCL. In the first month of shipyard league action, he had proved to be an excellent acquisition.

The other favorite shipyard nine in Seattle was the Duthies. With Sloan and Patterson-MacDonald starting strong, the Duthies must have realized they were in danger of losing their Seattle baseball supremacy. The Duthie shipyard was north of the Pat-Macs, occupying the East Waterway on Harbor Island. The Duthie baseball team was falling south in the standings. The Duthies had five players with major league experience on their roster. But Sloan and Patterson-MacDonald looked to be better. After losing to Sloan, the Labor Day weekend game against the Pat-Macs loomed as an important game.

Further down in the standings were the two shipyards representing Tacoma. They had trouble drawing stars early on in the season. Perhaps players weren’t drawn to the smaller city, and its smaller yards. Perhaps they initially wanted the higher competition that was offered in Seattle. As the season opener approached, the Foundation team had even debated whether they should participate in the league. The lack of star players could have been embarrassing. But investments from Burnett’s Jewelry Company convinced them to give it a go. Burnett’s put up a pair of gold fobs to be given away to the best player on each team after each game, as voted on by the sports writers. Even with the enticement of gold, Foundation struggled.

Playing slightly better was the Todd yard. The Todds beat Seattle North Pacific in their first game, but lost to the Duthies and their cross-town Tacoma rivals, Foundation, in the next couple games. The former major leaguer, Dutch Ruether, struggled to pitch well against the shipyard competition.

The clear basement dweller of the league from opening day was the Seattle North Pacific yard. They appeared to have a promising roster. One of the big gets was Cy Young, “king of the slow ball artists of this section”15 who had starred on the mound for the Seattle Giants earlier in 1918. They had also nabbed Pat Eastley, a pitcher for the Aberdeen Black Cats (and Seattle Giants in 1917). The big signing was Edgar Willet, who had spent eight seasons pitching in the major leagues. He had been out of the major leagues for a few years, but was pitching for the Salt Lake City Bees when the PCL collapsed.

A few other former major leaguers joined the Seattle North Pacific yard, but personnel problems plagued the team. Manager Bill Rose was suspended for one game after an argument with an umpire. The team refused to accept the suspension and refused to send a team down to Tacoma to take on the Todd yard on August 25th. The league immediately declared that Seattle North Pacific had forfeited its franchise by refusing to honor the schedule and accept Rose’s suspension. The word went out that the league was accepting applications for a sixth team.

The struggle continued when Cy Young was released at the end of August due to “internal trouble“.16 Young had struggled to pitch as well as he had with the Giants. He lost a game in the Victory Carnival, and his first two starts in the Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League. Young was eagerly signed by Foundation. Unfortunately, he couldn’t turn around Foundation’s fortunes. In his first game for his new team, he handed his old team their first win of the year.

As for the North Pacific yard, they rejoined the league almost immediately, having “sorted out their troubles.”17

Duthies and Pat-Macs Meet Again

The J.F. Duthie Shipyard nine had won every baseball championship they were qualified to win so far in the 1918 season. To their frustration, they weren’t running away with the Puget Sound Shipyard Baseball League and had already accumulated a loss to the Sloan team. Patterson-MacDonald was another strong team, and a meetup between the two was always cause for excitement among fans in Seattle.

Labor Day weekend was the perfect, festive setting. Back in June, the Duthies had beaten the Pat-Macs and claimed the crown of Seattle shipbuilder champs. The rematch was a highly anticipated event, the first of a baseball doubleheader that day at Liberty Park.

Paul Fittery was pitching for the Pat-Macs and his fellow former major leaguer Tom Seaton was taking the hill for the Duthies. Seaton had spent the 1918 minor league season with the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League and, like Fittery, was widely considered the best pitcher in the league (the newspapers of the day, perhaps influenced by the propaganda of war-time had a bent toward hyperbole). The game was billed to be a pitchers duel, and it would be.

The excitement began right away. Pat-Macs left fielder Del Bemis led off the game, and the Duthie team immediately objected to the ball and strike calls of Umpire Bedford, the chief of the umpire staff for the league. When the second batter, Pat-Macs third baseman and manager Jimmy Hamilton, walked the Duthies were furious. Duthie manager Joe Devine and a number of players rushed up to Bedford. The umpire, “after some spirited repartee with Devine, walked off the field.”18 The Seattle North Pacific and Foundation teams were waiting to play the second game of the double header, so each team sent a representative in to umpire the game, and it continued.

Fittery continued his tough pitching, and “stood the Duthie stickers on their heads thruout the game.”19 The Duthie offense only managed two hits in the game, although three batters reached on walks. The Pat-Mac offense was similarly stifled until the eighth inning. In the first inning, they had scored when Duthie center fielder Red Lynch lost a fly ball in the sun with Hamilton on third. In the top of the eighth with one out, “Jerry Downs singled to left. Lloyd Silcott followed with a long double against the center field fence. Then came Happy Morse with a clean single to center field and the two runs were over.”20

After the game Umpire Bedford admitted he didn’t know he could fine or eject players from games. Newly aware of the powers he possessed, he came back to work the 5 to 4 Seattle North Pacific win over Foundation. Devine was suspended for a week and fined, and the league was warned that the next punishments for abusing the umpires would be much harsher.

The Pat-Macs had beaten the Duthies and knocked them askew on their championship perch. The season series between the two teams was now tied at one win apiece. Although Sloan was a top team in the league, they played most of their games down in Olympia. To Seattle fans, allegiances were pledged to either the Duthies or the Pat-Macs.

The World Series and the Coming Pandemic

While Seattle fans focused most of their attention on the shipyard teams playing locally, major league baseball still occupied quite a bit of space on the sports pages. To the extent that baseball fans in Seattle followed the major leagues, it was entirely through written words in newspapers. Of course, there was no television in 1918, but there were also no radio broadcasts of games. The first such broadcast wouldn’t happen for another three years, and regular radio broadcasts in major league cities were still a decade away. Nevertheless, the World’s Series was a big event and Seattle fans wanted to follow along. The Seattle Daily Times helped in relaying the events as they happened.

World Series Game in 1918
World Series Game in 1918

The series began on September 5th. A scoreboard was built outside of the Times building downtown (the intersection was known then as “Times Square”). A direct wire connection between the ballparks in Chicago and Boston would relay information to Seattle. Every time a pitch was thrown, the information was sent over the wires and someone in Seattle would update the scoreboard by hand. Every ball, strike, and event in the game was represented so curious fans could follow along. Large crowds gathered early to watch the game played on the scoreboard. The popularity of the World’s Series in Seattle “rivaled reports from the European battlefields on Times Square.”21

The view of Seattle’s Times Square in 1918 from the Seattle Daily Times building.

The Times had a similar way communicating important war news. A whistle would alert the city with two long blasts when the Allied forces made new gains. Four long blasts were issued when the forces drove back the Germans. Everyone eagerly awaited “five short blasts at frequent intervals” when “Germany sues for peace.”22

On September 11, the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series. The players had a few days to find new jobs in essential war industries, or enlist in the military.

The same day the Seattle Daily Times noted in a column about weather hampering the soldiers overseas:

It is a marvel, due to the perfection of our medical science, that there has been no widespread epidemic this summer of a more serious character than “flu,” as the Spanish influenza and other Allied fevers are called, especially during the German offensive in March.

It is now that this strain is relaxed a little that some of them who have carried on so doggedly begin to “feel done” and into our rest hospitals and casualty clearing stations they have come drifting in. Now and then very tired young men in answer to the most cheery question, “Well, and what is the matter with you?” will say, “Nothing very definite. I feel a bit queer that’s all. I found it hard to carry on somehow.”23

Of course, this heavily downplayed the seriousness of the illness befalling soldiers. The morale machine of World War I was not about to admit that a deadly flu was sweeping through military outposts. Soldiers had begun dying quickly, not as casualties of combat, but from an insidious infectious disease.

Despite an outbreak at the navy post in Boston, a ship of sailors was sent from Boston to Philadelphia. Upon arrival, they mixed with sailors at the Philadelphia Navy Yard before heading out on a ship to the Puget Sound Naval Base in Bremerton, WA on September 10th. The ship would arrive in Bremerton with several men desperately ill.24

When the World Series ended, the second wave of the influenza began its deadly march across the country. People who were the very picture of vim and vigor one day were dead the next. Fear spread as fast as the virus.

Dark days loomed.

Click here for Part Three. Shipyard baseball continues, the influenza reaches Seattle and the shipyard baseball championship is determined.

Notes:

  1. “P. C. I. L. Drops Spokane and Tacoma,” Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), May 27, 1918: 13.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), May 23, 1918: 20.
  4. “Twilight Ball May Save Game”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), June 16, 1918: 50.
  5. “Through the Ol’ Knot Hole”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), June 17, 1918: 16.
  6. https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm
  7. “These Are Proud Days For Seattle, Seattle and Northwest Lead all Districts In Construction of Steel Ships”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), June 18, 1918: 13.
  8. “Umpired Chased From Grounds In Hot Contest”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), June 29, 1918: 8.
  9. “P. C. I. League Closes With Giants In The Lead, Play Last Game Here With Cats”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), July 1, 1918: 8.
  10. “Through the Ol’ Knot Hole”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), June 29, 1918: 8.
  11. “Shipyard League To Begin Playing Sunday, July 28”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), July 21, 1918: 71.
  12. “Shipyard Teams Meet Tonight to Talk of League”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), July 9, 1918: 15.
  13. “Spanish Grip Kills 305 in Swiss Army”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), July 27, 1918: 5.
  14. “Shipyards Stars Win Great Game”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), July 29,1918: 8.
  15. “Seattle North Pacific Out To Beat Crack Olympia Nine”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), August 4, 1918: 16.
  16. “Today’s Games To Settle City Title”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 1, 1918: 18.
  17. Ibid.
  18. “Fittery Edges Win Over Duthie Club”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 2, 1918: 8.
  19. “Fittery and Seaton Stage Pitchers’ Due”, The Seattle Star (Seattle, Washington), September, 2, 1918: 11.
  20. “Fittery Edges Win Over Duthie Club”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 2, 1918: 8.
  21. “Times Square Crowd Sees World Series Games Reproduced”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 5, 1918: 1.
  22. Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 5, 1918: 1.
  23. “Heavy Rain and Mud Hampering Haig’s Men”, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), September 11, 1918: 2.
  24. Barry, John M., The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 192 & 200.